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The Colour of Smoke

By , Georgetown, DE

“The colour of smoke? You spelled that wrong, Christophe,” she says, peering over my shoulder.


I scowl and hold the notebook a fair distance from my face. How she, so very young, makes me feel so very old. It’s not bad enough that she now has a key to my room and never stops bugging me to play house with her. Now she’s editing my papers- and I only have the title written. “Which word?”


“Colour,” she says. “There’s no u.”


“There is a u!” I snap.


“Christophe,” she says with a sigh, as if I’m the one in second grade and she’s the junior in college. “I’m telling you that there’s no-”


“Whatever, Scarlette,” I interrupt, ripping the page out. “I don’t even know why I bother sometimes. How am I supposed to complete this assignment?”


“By spelling all the words right, dummy. My teacher takes two points off for every misspelled word,” she tells me.


I turn my attention from the new blank page to her. “You’re not helping. This is for my college Philosophy class. If I fail this assignment, I’ll fail the class.” I have to stop myself from calling it Philosophia class, as my crazy old Greek professor forces us to say. He believes that “philosophy” is a b------ word and only “philosophia” properly represents “the love of wisdom.”


Crazy old b------.


“So then just take it again,” she suggests with a shrug. “Why do you have homework over Thanksgiving break anyway?”


Oh, to be young and not have to worry about paying fees and tuition, wasted time, or parents demanding to know how you’re flunking out of a liberal arts college. To have classes cushioned with homework with your grades coming from more than two tests a semester. To be young and simple.


“What do you have to do?” she asks before I can try to kick her out again.


“Describe the colour of smoke in one sentence.” What a dumb assignment. What a dumb assignment to be 70% of my grade. Tell me, how does this relate to philosophy? It sounds like a Composition question.


She frowns and crosses her arms. “What kind?”


“What kind? What do you mean what kind? It’s smoke.”


“Well, there’s the white smoke from cigarettes. The grey smoke from cars. The black smoke from the lawn mower…”


I frown at her. “It just says smoke.”


“Well, I can’t help you if you don’t even know what your dumb assignment is!” she huffs.


She storms out but as she does, I think about her answer. Only a kid would think to ask, “What kind?” A decade and a half of school will glaze you over and programme you to ignore the questions that arise when you get an assignment. You learn to just do the damn assignment and get your completion grade.


I laugh and shake my head. What kind, indeed. As I stand to go type my two-word essay, I can’t help but think that philosophy dies with us.

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